Authentically and meaningfully engaging families in systems design and improvement work requires careful attention to how we value the expertise and lived experiences of these critical partners. Oftentimes, there is a contrast in our espoused beliefs and actual behaviors (explicitly or implicitly). How conscious are we of the disconnect? What tools and frameworks exist to help us as systems leaders on our journeys to be more genuine in our beliefs and equitable and liberatory in our practice? Here are some key insights from Start Early Consulting’s work focused on centering family and provider voice.

Systems leaders aiming to engage families more equitably and effectively in systems design and improvement efforts need to assess their progress towards meeting these goals. Start Early has developed a self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils. Framed as a continuum for developing capacities, the tool incorporates tenets of the Spectrum of Community Engagement to Ownership framework.

Download Our New Tool

Download our new self-assessment tool focused on cultivating family leadership in systems building work through the establishment of Family Councils.

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Centering family voice and fostering genuine co-creation spaces is complex work that will not happen overnight; it is evolutionary. And giving ourselves grace, knowing we are all in different places and that where we fall at any point in time will depend on various, ever-changing contexts (i.e., as often as we engage new families as partners in the work), is necessary. The promise of nurturing sustainable conditions for change is held within one key, foundational step — shifting mindsets to value families as experts, in words and action. A few relevant reflections from our team’s experiences providing support to advocate and public sector leaders seeking transformational change within and across their early childhood systems follow:

  1. Shifting mindsets to acknowledge and leverage the expertise families hold regarding what best meets their diverse and unique needs is critical.
    When we approach engaging families from a deficit perspective (e.g., families are unknowing of what quality is or dismissing cultural contexts that also shape these definitions; families are unaware of resources or “hard to reach”), we consequently message that families are the problem and WE hold the answers to solving these challenges.
  2. Families have valuable insight and perspective towards creating high-impact and sustainable solutions.
    Acknowledging that most systems, by design, limit access and opportunities for families to thrive, shifting our mindsets to prioritize families’ input better prepares us for the important and complex work of questioning dominant perceptions of quality and learning what the true barriers to access are. When we focus on addressing these root issues — WITH families — we get closer to achieving transformational change.
  3. Families are valued as experts and the key drivers of systems change when their voices are centered and they are empowered and supported to LEAD co-creation efforts.
    Embracing this mindset and enacting aligned practices requires positive and trusting relationships and restructuring power dynamics (e.g. shared governance). These conditions prime us for critical and generative dialogue.

Need extra support with equitably centering family voice in your systems change efforts? Contact our team to learn more.

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On Thursday, May 9, 2024, the Illinois House of Representatives approved Senate Bill 1 (SB1), legislation to authorize the creation of the Illinois Department of Early Childhood. An initiative of Governor JB Pritzker, the proposal, which passed the Illinois Senate last month, aims to improve access to critical early learning and care services by better aligning and coordinating programs, data and policies. SB1 is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford and State Representative Mary Beth Canty. We anticipate the Governor will sign the bill into law sometime this summer. 

“Start Early applauds the Illinois General Assembly for approving such consequential legislation,” Ireta Gasner, Vice President of Illinois Policy at Start Early said. “The state is now committed, more than ever, to transform state government so it can provide the range of services young children and families need to thrive. We thank Governor Pritzker, Deputy Governor Martin Torres, and their team for leading this work—work that’s only just begun.” 

Once enacted, the bill will require the new Department, starting in July of 2026, to administer the Child Care Assistance Program, the Early Intervention program, evidence-based home visiting programs, as well as infant, toddler and preschool programs currently funded by the State Board of Education. It will also license and monitor child care programs. 

“Passing this bill was a team effort, though every team has its stars,” said Jonathan Doster, Start Early’s Illinois Legislative Director. “Thank you to Leader Lightford and Representative Canty for their commitment to young children and their dogged leadership as we moved this significant proposal through the legislative process.” 

Start Early looks forward to sharing with state leaders our knowledge and expertise developed over years through our work providing high-quality early childhood programming and advancing child-focused policies in Illinois, particularly as decisions about the governance and design of our early learning and care system are being made. Together, as the governor often says, we will make Illinois the best state in the nation in which to raise young children. 

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released its next installation of Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS) data, providing a snapshot of the skills young children had as they entered kindergarten in the 2022-2023 school year. The COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult to implement the tool and collect the valuable information it provides, but the data the state gathered makes it plain that while COVID-19 disruptions have had an impact, we are heading back to pre-pandemic readiness levels.

As noted in the recent KIDS report, 30% of all students in Illinois demonstrate Kindergarten readiness in all three developmental areas (social and emotional development, language and literacy development, and math), a steady increase that puts the state slightly above pre-pandemic levels. Indeed, since the launch of KIDS in 2017-2018, and despite pandemic challenges, the percentage of students rated “Kindergarten ready” in all three developmental areas has increased by 6 percentage points, reflecting a positive upward trend over time.



While state-wide numbers reflect improvement over time, the percentage of students demonstrating Kindergarten readiness in all three domains varies widely across lines of income, language and learning style. Persistent early gaps between student groups underscore the need for targeted support both during the early years, and in the early primary grades – particularly for students identified as English Learners. Currently implementation challenges exist to assess and identify English Learners but this implementation issue is being addressed by the KIDS Advisory Committee.

Other researchers are beginning to investigate whether and how KIDS relates to later academic performance. A new report from the Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC) concludes that KIDS scores are predictive of 3rd grade test scores in Math and English language arts (ELA). Yet, even with similar Kindergarten Readiness scores, Black and Latinx students are less likely to be proficient in 3rd grade math and ELA compared to White students.1

Some of these upward trends are encouraging, but persistent gaps require further work and study in the next few years. To address these gaps, assessment directors and school and district leaders should support administrators and teachers by reducing the amount of costly and redundant kindergarten readiness assessments, promoting the importance of a play-based environment in kindergarten, refering districts to KIDS coaches so they can acquire resources for implementing play-based learning, and ensuring there is an appropriate and full implementation of KIDS. It is too soon to draw any connections or conclusions, but we will note that these recent, modest increases coincide with the first year of Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start IL plan – a multi-year effort to increase funding for early childhood over a period of four years. The administration also plans to create a new Department of Early Childhood, which provides an opportunity for the state to create transformational changes that will benefit the early childhood workforce, young children and their families. This transformational work should be paired with sustainable investments and improved data collection, and we will all be watching to see if these coordinated efforts benefit our youngest learners. 

1Kiguel, S., Cashdollar, S., & Bates, S. (Forthcoming). Kindergarten readiness in Illinois: Trends and disparities in readiness using the Kindergarten Individual Development Survey (KIDS). Chicago, IL: Illinois Workforce and Education Research Collaborative (IWERC), Discovery Partners Institute, University of Illinois.

Start Early is pleased to introduce our Chicago Policy Agenda for 2024-2027. Chicago is positioned to make great strides toward a higher-quality, more equitable early care and learning system over the next three years and this policy agenda outlines key levers for achieving that kind of systems change.

Awareness of Chicago’s early learning issues among City leadership will be one of those key levers. After advocates in Chicago successfully garnered attention for early learning issues during the 2023 elections, Mayor Johnson outlined goals for early learning in his administration’s transition plan and has since embraced and revived the Every Child Ready Chicago initiative, which was launched under the Lightfoot administration just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The recently elected City Council has also seemingly made a renewed commitment to issues impacting Chicago’s young children with the revival of the Education and Child Development Committee, which now holds regular meetings under the leadership of Alderwoman Jeannette Taylor.  

Leadership changes within Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have also resulted in continued commitments to early learning, including furthering the expansion of universal full-day pre-k for every four-year-old in Chicago. In addition to hiring a new CEO in 2021, CPS is facing an unprecedented expansion of their Board of Education over the next four years that will open opportunities to expand the Board’s expertise and further democratize the range of issues it considers.   

As CPS receives increased funds from the state’s Early Childhood Block Grant under Governor Pritzker’s Smart Start plan, their leadership will need to contend with how to build on the progress that has been made to expand access to pre-k and do so in such a way that preserves and promotes equity within the mixed delivery system of school- and community-based early childhood education that gives families in Chicago the ability to choose the program that works best for their child. Doing so will require partnership with Chicago’s six federal Head Start grant recipients and the broader early childhood provider community in Chicago. Our hope is that this Chicago Policy Agenda will provide guidance on where to focus efforts and resources as the city embarks on this collaborative work.

On April 16, Start Early along with our partners at Child Care For All, COFI, Illinois Action for Children, Latino Policy Forum, Raising Illinois, SEIU, and We, the Village brought nearly 300 advocates down to Springfield to advocate for Illinois’ youngest learners. Advocates shared their perspectives with legislators on the impact that the creation of the Department of Early Childhood and increased funding for ECACE & Early Intervention would have on our early childhood systems. In visits with legislators, advocates also shared Raising Illinois’ Babies Can’t Wait postcards highlighting the struggles & successes Illinois families have had with Early Intervention.

With just over one month left in this legislative session, we aren’t slowing down our advocacy efforts! Here’s how you can still participate:

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Washington state's original Territorial CapitolAn early morning photo taken from the spot of Washington’s original Territorial Capitol
(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)

Note to the reader: With the conclusion of the 2024 legislative session, this represents our final weekly edition of Notes from Olympia for the year. We plan to send out updates periodically throughout the interim. In the meantime, keep your eyes out for a survey – we are eager for your feedback and are always on the lookout for trivia suggestions. Thanks for reading!


License Plates. How many options do Washingtonians currently have to choose from for special design license plates?

  • Bonus Trivia: Had SHB 2489 passed, Washingtonians would have had another choice for a special design license plate. Which beloved icon would this new special license plate option have featured?

This Week’s Highlights

The Legislature adjourned Sine Die with its traditional fanfare March 7. The Legislature spent its last week passing three Initiatives to the Legislature, taking final votes on scores of bills, saying goodbye to colleagues, and passing Supplemental Capital, Operating and Transportation budgets.

Initiatives to the Legislature. As expected, the Senate and House passed three of the six Initiatives to the Legislature: I-2113 (vehicular pursuits), I-2081 (parental rights) and I-2111 (income tax). This means that these three initiatives will not appear on the November ballot.

The two bodies’ approaches to the debates and votes on the initiatives captured the tenor of the session; the Senate moved efficiently, debating and voting on all three in under an hour and the House took over an hour to debate just one of the three initiatives. For further details, we will continue to recommend the Washington State Standard coverage.

Since there was no action taken on the other three Initiatives to the Legislature, they will appear on the November General Election ballot for consideration and decision by the state’s voters:

  • I-2109: Repeal of the Capital Gains Tax
  • I-2117: Repeal of the Climate Commitment Act
  • I-2124: Opt-out option for Washington’s long-term care program Long-Term Care

If you would like more information about the initiative process, it was featured in our Jan. 19 edition of Notes From Olympia.

Bills, Bills, Bills. Last week we explained that when a bill is amended in the opposite chamber it must return to its originating chamber for “concurrence” in the amendments made in the opposite chamber. Early in the week, the Senate and the House spent time voting to concur in amendments made in the other body. This is a quick, but important step for a bill to take on its way to the Governor’s desk.

One important bill to note is ESSB 6038, clarifying tax exemptions for child care services. Deemed “Necessary to Implement the Budget,” it was not subject to legislative deadlines. Before approving the bill 95-1 Tuesday, the House adopted a Floor amendment that removed the provision prohibiting DCYF from charging licensing fees. With that change, the bill serves to expand the business and occupation tax exemption for child care services for children up to age 7 to children up to age 12 and children up to age 18 who have a verified special need or are under court supervision. Perhaps there will be another effort in 2025 to eliminate child care licensing fees. The Senate then concurred in the House amendments to ESSB 6038 March 6.

Check out Start Early Washington’s bill tracker on our state policy resources page for a look at which bills made it to the end of the process. Not surprisingly, the list of bills that did not make it is much longer than those that did!

Cliffhanger revealed – 5 p.m. bills. Last Friday’s Opposite House Cutoff 5 p.m. bills were meaty, and each brought a level of drama. The Senate took up ESHB 1589 relating to clean energy. This bill had been brought up for debate a day earlier but was ruled unconstitutional by the Lt. Governor after a Republican objection. Overnight, the bill was re-worked to address the issue and after consideration of many, many amendments, the bill passed. ESHB 1589 experienced further drama when it returned to the House for concurrence in Senate amendments Monday, March 5. After five hours in caucus, the House finally concurred in the Senate amendments in the wee hours of March 6, adjourning just after 2 a.m.

Over in the House, the 5 p.m. bill was ESB 5241, the Keep Our Care Act. After announcing ESB 5241 would be the final bill for the evening, the House broke for caucus meetings and did not return to the Floor, so the bill did not advance.


On Wednesday, Start Early Washington updated its state budget comparison chart to reflect the conference proposals for the Operating, Capital and Transportation budgets on our state policy resources page.

As one of the final actions before adjourning Sine Die, the Legislature voted to approve each of the budgets. On March 6, the Senate and House each unanimously approved the Capital budget and, as demonstrated by the picture below, with a bit of “fanfare” in the Senate. The Operating and Transportation budgets were each approved on the final day of session – March 7.

The budget is a bill and, like every other bill, does not go into effect until signed by the Governor. It is important to track to see if the Governor issues any vetoes on aspects of the various budgets.

Sen. Yasmin wearing a mullet speaking on ESSB 5949 supplemental capital budget Prior to voting in favor of the Capital budget, many Senators donned mullets in honor of Senator Mark Mullet, who oversaw the crafting of the Capital budget.
(Photo Credit: TVW screenshot)

In Memoriam

With heavy hearts, we want to honor Former Representative Peggy Maxie and acknowledge her passing on Feb. 18. We have included some information about her amazing life and accomplishments below, but if you would like to learn more about her career, we featured a more thorough overview in our Feb. 4, 2022 edition of Notes From Olympia.

Born in 1936, Representative Maxie was the first Black woman elected to the Legislature in 1970 and she served until 1983, for a total of six terms. She and her family came to Washington state in 1942 when her mother was hired by Boeing as part of the World War II workforce. After she graduated from high school, Maxie worked for the Attorney General’s office and for the Seattle Urban League. She then earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Seattle University and her Master of Social Work from the University of Washington. In addition to working as a consultant for health and community programs, she also trained for nine months to become a nun.

The story is that Representative Maxie had a somewhat comical entry into the political sphere. Her brother, Fred Maxie, had decided to run for Position 2 in the 37th District but changed his mind to go to law school. He’d already had campaign signs with their last name—Maxie—printed on them and didn’t want them to go to waste. It turned into a real-life example of the sunk cost fallacy, as he asked his sister to step up and run instead. Their other brother, Robert, had already forayed into the world of politics and had worked for years in the Democratic Party. Through providing organizational and financial support, he helped launch his sister’s political career, as she would soon become Representative Maxie. He even recruited Jim McGill, a professor of English at Seattle University, to be her campaign manager.

Peggy Maxie holding "Elect Peggy" campaign posterPeggy Maxie and one of her campaign posters
(Photo Credit: Seattle Times)

In Representative Maxie’s decade-plus tenure, she served on the House Appropriations, Judicial, Rules and Insurance Committees. She worked on notable legislation including the Landlord-Tenant Act and the Displaced Homemakers Act. The first act was responsible for defining the relationship between landlords and tenants and established some of the first tenant protections in our state. The bill faced active opposition from landlord lobbyists, but still passed. (Interestingly, the same Landlord-Tenant Act was a major issue during this 2024 session, with landlord lobbyists strongly opposing rent stabilization efforts). The second act supported women who had been “displaced due to divorce, death of a spouse, disability of a spouse, or other loss of family income of a spouse,” according to HistoryLink.

Peggy Maxie Peggy Maxie
(Photo Credit: Women in the Legislature)

We will be forever grateful for Representative Maxie’s contributions to civil rights, education and housing in the state. Her legacy has impacted so many—it extended beyond her time in the Legislature and will extend beyond her lifetime.

Trivia Answer

Washingtonians currently have 67 special design license plates to choose from. To see the full list of special design options for license plates, visit the Department of Licensing (DOL) website. And while it is a little pricier, you can also personalize your own custom plate—there are a few constraints on which characters you can use, so be sure to check out the DOL website. There are a few banned custom plates, which you can see at this link. It’s important to keep things decent, or as my college friend always said, “only good clean fun!”

If the Legislature had passed SHB 2489, it would have created a new special license plate option featuring … Smokey the Bear and his popular slogan, “Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires!” Washington would have joined our fellow Smokey fans in Oregon and Texas, who already have Smokey license plate options.

Green and white license plate with image of Smokey the Bear and quote "only you can prevent wildfires"What could have been … A sample Smokey the Bear license plate
(Photo Credit: Washington State Democrats via KUOW)

Smokey’s association with fire prevention dates back to World War II, when there was a severe shortage of firefighters available to contain wildfires and much of the workforce participated in efforts directed towards different war-related activities. And while the bombings at Pearl Harbor did not directly cause a wildfire, the event still incited fear and concern. In response, the U.S. Forest Service established the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention (CFFP) program in 1942. Serendipitously, the film Bambi came out that same year, and Disney agreed that its characters could be used in the wildfire prevention campaign (spoiler: there are many traumatic parts of that movie, the wildfire only being one of them). Following on the movie’s heels, Smokey Bear was officially created August 9, 1944. His name honors “Smokey” Joe Martin, a courageous New York City Fire Department Chief.

A few years after the character was created, Smokey Bear became a national celebrity and got a real-life mascot: a little cub who survived a wildfire in the Capitan Mountains in New Mexico in 1950. At the time, forest rangers, local firefighting crews from New Mexico and Texas, and the New Mexico State Game Department worked to contain the fire when a crew member alerted everyone to a bear cub by itself near the fire line (a border used to help contain wildfires). According to, firefighters got caught in the path of the firestorm and survived by lying face down on a rockslide; Smokey had taken refuge in a tree and was badly burned but was rescued by a ranger from the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The ranger helped get him transported to Santa Fe for medical treatment, and the nation became invested in the little bear’s recovery after the United Press and The Associated Press published the story of his rescue. He lived most of his life at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., as he became the symbol representing the country’s federal conservation and wildfire prevention program. reports that Smokey received so many letters of support and gifts of honey that he had to have his own zip code. He was returned to Capitan, New Mexico, upon his passing in 1976 and was honored with a burial at Smokey Bear Historical Park. So much bravery, both human and ursine!

Smokey’s campaign is the longest-running PSA in US history, so it makes sense that his catchphrase has evolved over the years:

  • Originally, in the 1940s, it was “Smokey Says – Care Will Prevent 9 out of 10 Forest Fires.”
  • 1947: “Remember… Only YOU Can Prevent Forest Fires.” Presumably, the campaign wanted to shift a sense of responsibility to the reader.
  • 2001: “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires.” This edit was to clarify that Smokey is referring to unintentional, human-caused fires.

Another perhaps little-known fact about Smokey the Bear is that his name was originally “Smokey Bear,” but the song written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins added that small little word and ignited a fiery debate about what the bear’s *actual* name is. Once the song got popular, the new name spread like wildfire (is it too soon?). alleges that his name never changed and that it is officially “Smokey Bear.” No matter which name you prefer, Smokey is doing his job to spread awareness about forest fire prevention; hopefully you’ll be able to show your Smokey spirit sometime in the future!

About the Campaign []
Only you (almost) can put Smokey Bear on Washington license plates [Washington State Standard]
Peggy Maxie, first Black woman elected to WA state House, dies [The Seattle Times]
Story of Smokey []
Smokey Bear []
Why Washington cars could get a little Smokey in 2024 [KUOW]

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At Start Early, we understand that a path forward must involve listening to and partnering with families and early childhood practitioners. We can get it right for all children from the start by shaping futures together with teachers, support staff, doulas, home visitors, child care providers and other early childhood staff. That’s why as we watched President Biden’s 2024 State of the Union, we were listening out for opportunities to prioritize the early care and learning policies, research and investments that families and providers shared as high priority during the development of the Shaping Futures Together Agenda, our new research and policy agenda. Here’s how the Biden-Harris administration’s priorities stacked up to what we heard from those on the front lines of narrowing the equity gap for our nation’s youngest children:

Healthy Births and Thriving Families

The families and providers we spoke to as we developed  the Shaping Futures Together Agenda made it clear: they need and want greater access to the financial security, supports for new parents, and paid family leave benefits that every family deserves in order to get off to a strong start. President Biden’s points during the State of the Union about the cost of housing and food, student debt, and the many economic factors affecting families today speaks to the need to make it easier for families to have the financial resources they need to thrive. We applaud his reminder that the Child Tax Credit (CTC) the Biden-Harris administration passed during the pandemic supported “millions of working families and cut child poverty in half”, and his call to action to restore the credit because “no child should go hungry in this country.” We look forward to advancing this priority by working to eliminate the restrictive policies and eligibility criteria of federal early childhood and financial assistance programs that limit a family’s ability to improve their financial circumstances and advance policies like the CTC and Universal Basic Income that can help ensure consistent access to basic needs for families with young children. We applaud the House for its recent passage of a bipartisan tax package that included an expanded CTC, and urge the Senate to take action on this important support for families.

Positive Early Learning and Development

Across the country, families face a diverse array of life situations that are made more complicated by the challenge of finding quality, affordable child care. We—and the families and providers we spoke to in the Shaping Futures Together Agenda listening sessions – share President Biden’s vision on this: “Imagine a future with affordable child care. Millions of families can get [the support] they need to go to work to help grow the economy.” We applaud the priority placed on child care at the State of the Union as well as the administration’s most recent efforts to expand affordable child care for families accessing child care assistance, which included capping families’ co-payments, encouraging states to eliminate co-payments for families with the greatest need, and streamlining the process for families to access child care subsidies. These policies provide parents the opportunity to work, helping increase family economic security and building a stronger economy. As parent Hazel shared with us, “If you’re a parent, your ability to show up fully to a job is dependent on being confident and comfortable with who is watching your child.” We look forward to partnering with the Biden-Harris administration to ensure that all parents have that confidence and comfort by further expanding access to child care and making it easier for all families to access Early Head Start and Head Start and Early Intervention services.

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Effective, Valued and Well-Compensated Workforce

The workforce is the backbone of the early childhood programs and systems that children and families rely on every day. We heard President Biden’s statement last night loud and clear, and we agree: public school teachers deserve a raise and “to remain the strongest economy in the world, we need the best education system in the world.” We also applaud the President’s commitment in last night’s speech to working towards public pre-K access for all 3- and 4-year-olds. We hope that in its work to support our nation’s education system, that the Biden-Harris administration will continue to lift up our workforce: the child care providers, home visitors, and others who deserve the wages, job satisfaction, and professional development opportunities that will help them remain in the early learning field. As Columba, curriculum director at an early learning center shared: “Being a teacher is hard work… if you’re not rewarded and appropriately compensated, you’re going to find something easier to do, often for the same amount of money or more. I see it too often.” We must work together to improve pay, benefits, and support for those who work in early childhood programs and help them stay in their roles by ensuring they can meet their own basic needs and are developing as professionals.

Climate Change

We applaud the President’s recommitment to environmental justice in the priorities he set forth last night: “We are also making history by confronting the climate crisis, not denying it. I’m taking the most significant action on climate ever in the history of the world… Taking historic action on environmental justice for fence-line communities smothered by the legacy of pollution.” The historic investments in environmental justice advanced by the Biden-Harris administration have the potential to connect children, families, and early care and learning providers across the country with resources that promote their resilience in a disrupted climate. As with the Shaping Futures Together agenda, Start Early and its partners heard through many parent and provider listening sessions that climate change and resiliency are top of mind for those who care for young children. We hope the administration’s commitment climate justice will extend to children and families and will encompass the solutions proposed in Flourishing Children, Healthy Communities, and a Stronger Nation: The U.S. Early Years Climate Action Plan.


Start Early believes the federal government can act as a facilitator of strong early childhood programs and systems at the state and community levels. But policies and investments that program and system improvement at all levels of government must remain centered in the priorities and lived experiences of caregivers of young children. We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for aligning with the priorities we’ve heard from families and providers across the country, and look forward to partnering with the administration and those on the front-lines to move these important policies forward.

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The first light of the day greets the Capitol Building for more legislative activity
(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)


The “Lost” Capitol. When it was still a Territory, Washington had a different Capitol Building. Where was the original Capitol Building located?

This Week’s Highlights

Action on three of the Initiatives to the Legislature. This week, joint legislative committees held public hearings on three of the six Initiatives to the Legislature:

While each of the initiatives were heard before joint legislative committees (for example, the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee and the House Education Committee held a joint hearing on I-2081), each of the Senate and House Committees will meet independently Friday, March 1 in Executive Sessions to take a vote on the initiatives. Using the example of I-2081, the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee will meet in its own Executive Session to consider I-2081 and the House Education Committee will meet separately in its Executive Session to also consider I-2081.

If these initiatives are approved by their respective committees, they will move to the Senate and House Floors for debates and votes there. Those initiatives passed by both bodies will NOT appear on the November general election ballot.

Initiatives to the Legislature are not subject to legislative cutoff deadlines, nor do they require gubernatorial approval. For more information, the Washington State Standard has been covering the hearings on I-2113 (vehicular pursuits), I-2081 (parental rights) and I-2111 (income tax).

Another day, another committee cutoff. In what now feels like weeks ago, Monday, Feb. 26 represented the final committee cutoff – the deadline for bills to pass out of the opposite chamber’s fiscal committee.

For many advocates (including this writer), it made for quite a tense weekend of waiting to see if your beloved bill would make the Monday Executive Session schedule AND receive a vote. The bill that received the most attention was in the Senate Ways and Means Committee where an effort to pass rent stabilization failed to garner sufficient support for passage. Again, our friends at the Washington State Standard captured the issue – and the political implications – in a thorough manner.

“It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.” Friday, March 1 at 5 p.m. represents the Opposite House Cutoff. This means that all bills (except those deemed Necessary to Implement the Budget) must be passed by the opposite body.

Maybe it is because so many bills did not make it through the filter this year, but it does feel like the Legislature has a more manageable list of bills to tackle before 5 p.m. on Friday. We again get to play the game of “What is the 5 p.m. bill?” (We really need more entertaining hobbies in this work). Check out the February 16 edition of Notes from Olympia for a description of the 5 p.m. bill concept.

The demise of the rent stabilization bill, as noted above, takes one of the likely options off the table for the Senate’s 5 p.m. bill. In the House, talk is that the “Keep Our Care Act” (ESB 5241) could be their 5 p.m. bill. Supporters argue the Keep Our Care Act will ensure that hospital mergers do not limit access to critical health care.

Check back next week for the riveting conclusion to the question gripping the state of Washington – “What was the 5 p.m. bill?” In the meantime, visit our state policy resources page for the latest status on bills. 

What’s on deck for the final week?

What can we expect? Other than the unexpected, of course!

Finalization and approval of budgets. A major – if not the primary – “to do” in the final week of the legislative session is the release and ultimate approval of the compromise Operating, Capital and Transportation budgets. Typically, this is one of the final acts before adjournment. If you are sitting in the Senate and House galleries watching the Floor debate right now, it is quite common to see budget writers popping on and off the Floor as they continue to iron out budget details. They are working to craft a balanced budget that also garners sufficient support for passage. As part of this process, Senate and House budget negotiators are identifying areas of variance between their two budget approaches and working toward compromise. Again, always with an eye toward a balanced budget that will pass both chambers.

Once the compromise budgets are released, Start Early Washington will update its budget chart with all the details on our state policy resources page.

“Get it right back where we started from.” Just like in the classic Maxine Nightingale song, sometimes you gotta “get it right back where we started from.” (Google the song if you don’t know it – it’s a classic toe tapper!). I’m working hard to spice up the rather dry mechanics of the legislative process, folks!

If a bill has not been amended in the opposite chamber, it can go straight to the Governor for action following passage and signature by the respective leaders. Conversely, when a bill has been amended in the opposite chamber, it must go back to where it started from (I did have a point with the song reference!) so the originating body can give their A-OK on the amendments made in the opposite chamber. This process is called “concurrence.” Much of the last week of the legislative session will focus on the Senate and House concurring on the opposite chamber’s amendments. There are occasions when there is disagreement over the direction the bill has taken in the opposite chamber, and there are steps in place to address when this occurs.

“So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, adieu.” This classic song from “The Sound of Music” feels very appropriate right now. At the end of every two-year legislative session, it is customary for lawmakers to announce retirements. Sometimes legislators are retiring from elected office altogether while others might be seeking an office different from the State Legislature.

We are starting to see the retirement announcements roll out, including from freshman House Republican Spencer Hutchins from the 26th legislative district in Kitsap County. Last week, Representative Hutchins announced he would not seek reelection to the Legislature due to the impact holding office has had on his family and business. On Wednesday, former House Minority Leader J.T. Wilcox, who has served the 2nd legislative district representing parts of Pierce and Thurston counties since 2011, shared his plans to retire at the conclusion of his term.

During the last week of session, we will see time set aside in the Senate and House for lawmakers to honor and thank their departing colleagues for their contributions.

SINE DIE is March 7 – the end is near! In Latin, “Sine Die” literally means “without day.” What that means in the legislative context is there is no day designated on which the Legislature will resume its activities (until the next year).

During the legislative session, when the Senate and House officially adjourn each day, they announce their return. So, when the Senate adjourned last night, they announced the Senate was adjourned until 9 a.m. Friday, March 1, the 54th legislative day. Sine Die is the one day they do not announce a return date.

What Sine Die means for those involved in the legislative process either as a legislator, staff, advocates or other interested parties, is we can take a second to breathe and catch up on some much-needed sleep.

It might be Sine Die, but the work is not quite done. As we near the end of session, everyone is eager to get their bills approved by both chambers (relatively intact), signed by the House Speaker and Senate President and to the desk of the Governor for his hopeful signature. Of course, bills are not considered “law” if they don’t get the Governor’s “John Hancock.”

The timing of when the Governor must act on bills that reach his desk is connected to the timing of when they are delivered to his desk. In short, there are two main rules:

  • Any bill that is delivered to the Governor’s office when there are MORE THAN five days before the legislative session ends, becomes a “5-day bill”—that is, the Governor must act upon it within five days.
  • Any bill that is delivered to the Governor’s office when there are FEWER than five days remaining in the legislative session, becomes a “20-day bill”—the Governor must act upon it within 20 days.

Like with any rule, there are exceptions! One exception involves how the days are counted. Per the Governor’s office website, these time periods are counted using calendar days, not business days. Even Saturdays and state holidays are included in the count! But Sundays are not included.

Much like with babies, the key detail in this process is the delivery date, meaning the day the bill shows up at the Governor’s office. For example, a bill may have passed Feb. 29, but due to need for leadership signatures, it may not be delivered to the Governor’s office until March 2, so it becomes a 20-day bill because of when it was delivered.

Today, March 1, is the cutoff for 5-day bills. So, if you’re eagerly awaiting Governor Inslee’s signature, here’s to hoping your bill(s) was delivered to his office today!

How to track the status of bill signings? Governor Inslee’s website contains a bill action section that will include updates on scheduled bill actions and note actions taken to date. Most of the bill activity will occur in the Governor’s conference room in the Legislative Building but sometimes a bill signing will be scheduled at a relevant location off-campus, such as a school for an education-related bill.

If you’re *really* excited about a bill getting signed and want to see its signature ceremony, the best way to watch is on TVW. Bill sponsors are afforded a few invitations, but unfortunately bill signings have been closed to the public since the pandemic.

Trivia Answer

The first Capitol Building, also known as the Territorial Capitol, was located on the current Capitol campus between what we now know as the Legislative Building and the Insurance Building.

“X” Marks the Spot of the Original Capitol Building for the Washington Territory
Map courtesy: Washington State Department of Enterprise Services (edited by Start Early WA)

The Territory Capitol Building was originally a small structure built out of wood in 1856, paid for using federal funding. Although it was understood to be a temporary location, legislators (among others) complained about the location because they thought it was too far out of the way. The building was just a tad smaller than our Legislative Building today, measuring only 40 by 60 feet. The first floor held a “hall” for the House of Representatives and two small committee rooms. The upper floor housed the Council (Senate), two additional committee rooms and a Territorial library. 75 delegates worked from the building.

Apparently, it was already falling apart by 1874 (including rotting and sinking floors), and Congress gave the state $5,000 for repairs (which were completed), but there was a push for an entirely new building in the 1890s. The original Capitol building was abandoned in 1905 and destroyed in 1911. The State Board of Control wanted it to get demolished for free, but not surprisingly, the construction workers wanted to be paid for their labor. Eventually, W. J. Giggey and J. W. Relf of Olympia made an offer to knock down the original Capitol Building and accept the scrap lumber as payment—this offer was accepted. Construction on the current Capitol Campus began in 1912 and the Capitol Building we know today, was completed in 1927.

After the first Capitol Building was torn down, the Legislature met in the Old State Capitol Building in downtown Olympia from 1905 to 1928 (this building is now the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction). Sadly, the Old State Capitol Building caught fire in 1928. The Tacoma Fire Department responded as quickly as they could to the fire (although they got stuck in weekend traffic) and the community helped save the valuables inside, including stuffed and mounted animals on display in the lobby. According to History Link, “all the records and files were saved, but some were water soaked.” While taxidermy wouldn’t have been my first thought to save, it’s great that important documents and these items were preserved.

To contextualize the timing: Washington was created from the larger Oregon territory on March 2, 1853, and officially accepted to the Union on November 11, 1889. At the time, Washington state was going to be called the “Territory of Columbia,” but Representative Richard H. Stanton pointed out that people might confuse it with the nation’s capital territory at the time, Territory of Columbia (now the District of Columbia). While he did make a valid point, perhaps ironically, we did not escape the confusion with the nation’s capital, as we still need to clarify Washington state versus Washington D.C., the city.

Washington state's original Capitol Building in the snow (1911)The original Capitol Building in the snow (1911)
(Photo Credit: Washington State Archives via Olympia Historical Society
& Bigelow House Museum)


Abandoned Territorial Campus in the Snow [Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum]
Fire damages Old State Capitol Building in Olympia on September 8, 1928 []
Territorial Capitol 2/5/17 [Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum]
Lost Landmark: Washington’s “Temporary” Territorial and First State Capitol [Thurston Talk]

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The Legislative Building awaits another busy week
(Photo Credit: Erica Hallock)


The Humble Bivalve. HB 1984 by Representative Mike Chapman would designate which clam as the official clam of Washington state?

Spoiler alert: This bill was pre-filed before the legislative session, but it didn’t make it out of committee. Perhaps it will “mussel” its way through the Legislature in another year.

Highlights of the Week

Potato Day! The potatoes this year really hit the spot, and you can tell the people on campus love these sponsored food days. Thank you to the Washington State Potato Commission!

Potato Day!
(Photo Credit: Zoë Erb)

Caseload Forecast

On Friday, Feb. 16, the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council released its updated caseload forecast. These caseload forecasts project expected caseloads for entitlement programs ranging from K-12 education to public assistance to corrections. Budget writers use this data to inform their budgets.

In terms of early learning, the following are updated forecasted caseloads:

Narratives accompanying the caseload forecasts and analyses of note (including any risks to the forecasts) are as follows:

  • Transition to Kindergarten (TTK). TTK has been more popular in smaller school districts and rural communities, and less common in certain areas such as King County. Risks to the forecast include variance depending upon the month in which a school district starts its TTK program. The narrative also notes TTK is a newer program, which makes forecasting future caseloads more challenging.
  • ECEAP. The narrative notes that nearly all of the enrollment growth for ECEAP in the 2022-23 school year was from children who were not “entitlement eligible” (meaning children who meet eligibility to participate under rules adopted by DCYF, not those eligible by income). The forecast also finds enrollment has been higher in the 2023-24 school year than in the 2022-23 year.
  • Working Connections Child Care. The forecast accounts for recently enacted legislation that builds on the Fair Start for Kids Act and further expands eligibility for Working Connections Child Care. There is also assumed continued recovery from the pandemic in terms of child care usage.
  • Early Achievers Subsidy Providers. The forecasted growth in Early Achievers Subsidy Providers should have an asterisk next to it because it represents the use of a new system to track number of providers. With this new system, we should have a more accurate count of the number of licensed providers participating in Early Achievers going forward. One particular item of note is the assumption that the increased enrollment of new providers is being driven by recent increases in reimbursement rates, particularly those for family child care providers.

Supplemental Budget Updates. Earlier this week, the Senate and House released their Operating and Capital budgets (as well as Transportation budgets). The released documents reflect more of a traditional supplemental budget approach, with the limited new investments focused on high priority, time sensitive items such as fentanyl response, housing and the overall workforce crisis.

Start Early Washington shared a side-by-side comparison of the various – and varying – approaches to the Operating and Capital budgets proposed by the Senate, House, and the Governor that impact early learning, on our state policy resources page. The side-by-side comparison chart highlights how the bodies invested quite differently in early learning. With just 13 days left in the official legislative session, the clock is ticking for the two bodies to come to an agreement on their differences and settle on final budgets that will garner sufficient votes for passage.

We will continue to update the budget summary comparison chart as the process continues. We expect the Senate and House to pass their respective Operating budgets over the coming weekend.

One important tip to remember: it is protocol for the initially released budgets to include funding for bills passed out of the House of Origin. Typically, funding for a House bill would be included in the House budget, but not in the Senate budget, and visa versa. There are pros and cons to this approach in that each body’s budget holds “space” for funding of bills, but it also means – particularly in tighter fiscal years – there will likely need to be cuts during the negotiations to accommodate the funding of all of the bills that will make their way through the process.

Bills, Bills, Bills! Weds, Feb. 21 represented the final policy committee cutoff. Most early learning-related bills were heard – and approved – by the policy committee cutoff deadline. Start Early Washington updated its bill tracker on our state policy resources page to reflect the latest versions.

Continuing the theme of “no rest until interim” (sung to the tune of “no sleep till Brooklyn”), Thursday morning saw the start (again!) of marathon fiscal committee hearings in advance of the Feb. 26 opposite chamber fiscal committee cutoff. (Yet another weekend of work. Oh, joy.) And then it’s back to the floor where the bodies will consider bills from the opposite chamber. PHEW!

What’s on Deck for Next Week?

Hearings on Three Initiatives

This week, Democratic leadership announced public hearings on three of the six certified Initiatives to the Legislature Feb. 27-28, with the remaining three initiatives destined for voter determination in the November general election.

Scheduled public hearings include:

  • Initiative 2111 relating to limiting the ability of state and local governments to impose an income tax, will be heard in a Joint Hearing by the Senate Ways and Means and the House Finance Committees Feb. 27 at 12:30 p.m.
  • Initiative 2081 concerning parental rights and their children’s public school education, will be heard in a Joint Hearing by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 and the House Education Committees Feb. 28 at 8 a.m.
  • Initiative 2113 relating to vehicular pursuits by police officers, will be heard in a Joint Hearing by the Senate Law and Justice and the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee Feb. 28 at 9 a.m.

Speculation around the Capitol campus is that following these public hearings, the Senate and House will vote to accept these three Initiatives to the Legislature, so they will not go before the voters.

There is question about how consideration of these initiatives will factor into the typical end-of-session busyness involving budget resolution, final passage of bills and concurrence in amendments made in the opposite chamber. One thing can be said about Olympia – it is never boring!

The remaining three initiatives still slated to head to the November ballot are:

The Feb. 16 edition of the Washington State Standard has a great piece by Jerry Cornfield covering the ins and outs of this issue. And refer to our Jan. 19 edition of Notes From Olympia for more information on the six initiatives and the initiative process.

Trivia Answer

A side-by-side of the razor clam and the geoduck
(Photo Credit: via The Columbian)

Had Representative Chapman’s HB 1984 passed, the Pacific razor clam, aka the Siliqua patula, would have become the official state clam.

HB 1984 includes the statistic that people in Washington have harvested over 8 million clams annually in recent years, and that clam digging is an important activity—not just in terms of fun, but also as a source of food and cultural significance.

According to the Department of Fish & Wildlife, the Pacific razor clam is one of the “most sought after shellfish” in the state. The Department even developed this handy-dandy guide for clam digging. If you decide to try your hand at clam digging, be sure to check for any current razor clam season information, as well as the rules and regulations for sport fishing.

If this bill seems familiar, it’s because we’ve seen it before, but in a different form. Former Representative Brian Blake and current Representative Jim Walsh sponsored HB 1061 which was heard in both 2019 and 2020, but it didn’t quite make it to the finish line.

The Seattle Times credits the original effort to designate a state clam to David Berger, who wrote “Razor Clams: Buried Treasure of the Pacific Northwest” and lobbied lawmakers for the designation. The Times also informed its readers that Berger was so passionate about this issue that he contacted Kelli Hughes-Ham, a sixth grade teacher at Hilltop Middle School in Ilwaco, Pacific County. She used the bill as an opportunity to teach her students about the legislative process, and her class made posters to encourage lawmakers to designate the razor clam as the official state clam. This is not unlike the efforts of Amy Cole’s former fourth grade class to make the Suciasaurus Rex the official state dinosaur, which Governor Inslee finally signed into law after a multi-year effort in 2023.

One of the sixth grade lobbyist posters in support of the Pacific razor clam
(Photo Credit: Kelli Hughes-Ham, courtesy of the Seattle Times)

Perhaps one of the reasons these bills haven’t made it to the governor’s desk is because this has become a hot topic at the Legislature—a battle of the bivalve mollusks if you will. Governor Inslee even referenced this heated debate at an event this week, saying that the Legislature shouldn’t rest until we have an official state clam!

While the Pacific razor clam has supporters, the geoduck is still a formidable opponent. Members of the House’s State Government and Tribal Relations Committee wanted to be sure to give proponents of the geoduck an opportunity to have their say as well. Both geoducks and clams are members of the bivalve mollusk family. For those of you who may need to Google it (I know I did), bivalve mollusks “have an external covering that is a two-part hinged shell that contains a soft-bodied invertebrate” according to the National Ocean Service. In this instance, an invertebrate is simply an animal that does not have a backbone. (This is just begging for a joke about politicians and backbones.)

Although the geoduck is already the school mascot of the Evergreen State College, we can see the argument for designating it as the state clam as well. Geoduck aquaculture is alive and well, frequenting approximately 200 square acres of tidelands in our state. Much of that tideland is privately owned, but the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has explored whether publicly owned state-lands could host geoduck farms. Washingtonians are not the only geoduck fans; they are a delicacy in Asia and can fetch a rate of up to $125 per pound. DNR reported in 2020 that the state exports around 11 million pounds each year. Clearly it plays a huge role in the state economy, and it is also allegedly the biggest shellfish found on Washington beaches.

What do you think our official state clam should be? If you have strong feelings, please let your lawmakers know (and us at Start Early WA – we’re quite curious)!

Geoduck Aquaculture [Department of Natural Resources]
Razor clams, geoducks battle to be WA’s top clam [The Columbian]
Razor clams, geoducks battle to be WA’s top clam [The Seattle Times]
Razor clam seasons and beaches [Department of Fish & Wildlife]
Suciasaurus rex becomes official Washington state dinosaur after Gov. Inslee signs bill [NBC Right Now]

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On January 19, 2024, Start Early and the Educare Network submitted comments to the Office of Head Start (OHS) in response to its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) related to changes to the Head Start Program Performance Standards. The proposed changes reflect important potential changes centered around improving workforce compensation and benefits, integrating mental services more broadly in programs, and enhancing program quality initiatives focused on engaging families, health and safety, and better meeting community needs.

The submitted comments represent feedback from over 150 staff and parent leaders across Start Early and Educare schools. Overall, both Start Early and Educare Network organizations applaud these efforts to promote quality through support for the workforce and recommend OHS provide additional guidance to programs on the implementation of the proposed changes. As one staff member noted, “These changes seem to be a big step in creating equitable and inclusive educational programs for students, families and staff. It supports teaching staff’s wellbeing and keeping them from burnout, while also creating more opportunities for families furthest from educational justice.”

Additionally, in order to fully realize the benefits of the proposed updates to the performance standards, Start Early and the Educare Network encouraged OHS to consider the significant resources that programs will need to successfully enact these changes and also to address the need for a more urgent timeline for these changes given the current workforce crisis. Download the full text of the letter below.

For any questions on the comments, please reach out to Nadia Gronkowski at